June 17th, 2009

Baruth 2010: The New Campaign Logo

by Philip Baruth

For those of you who have a taste for this sort of nuts and bolts strategy, we have the reveal: the new campaign logo. Created by Burlington-based Methodikal Design, which is to say Mike Hannigan and Seth Drury, two of the very sharpest tools in the shed. And coming soon to a lawn sign near you. [Cue up Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely,” then fade out]

June 17th, 2009

“Birth Rate Blues” Proves Potent Yet Again

by Philip Baruth

You might remember that back in April, one of my Vermont Public Radio commentaries, a light-hearted look at the state’s sagging birth rate, won an Edward R. Murrow award in the Overall Excellence category. Against all odds, the same piece just won first place in the national Public Radio News Directors Awards. Not too shabby, considering that VPR’s entries were judged head to head against the largest media markets, like those in Chicago and New York. The real lesson here? The rest of the United States of America can’t get enough of stories about hearty Vermonters with low fertility rates and/or sperm counts. Go figure.

June 16th, 2009

Welch in Winooski: From the Public Option in DC to The O’Brien Community Center

by Philip Baruth

Peter Welch has been on a tear the last few weeks, even for Welch. On June 8, his office announced that his energy efficiency legislation was included in the Senate’s own comprehensive energy bill. The next day he was in the East Room with the President, to announce pay-as-you-go legislation that Welch is sponsoring. And because he was still feeling restless and underworked, Welch introduced a bill creating a public health insurance option two days later. Not a half-bad week, by any measure, you’d have to say.

But if you follow Welch’s schedule at all, you quickly realize that he and his staff are never going to let up on the home front, either. They had no challenger last time out, and apparently they want never to have a challenger ever again.

No one will ever be able to accuse this team of neglect, that’s certain. Today, it was an event at the O’Brien Community Center in Winooski, to announce a $114,000 grant Welch helped secure. The fulfillment of a two-year-old campaign promise, in fact.

The Community Center, which used to be a barren strip mall on the west end of the city, was the brainchild of Parks and Recreation Director Bob DiMasi (above). It’s a truly impressive facility now, with glass-walled meeting spaces and full health club-style gym. J. Ladd (below) and the Community Development Department took a bow as well.

The event was attended by a lot of good-hearted officials, a lot of them new or incoming folks, with more than your average amount of energy and ideas. Jodi Harrington, for instance, a brand-new City Councilor, and Deac Decarreau, the new City Manager (from right to left below), with big ideas about how to turn parking lots into green spaces.

The Center has a vibrant feel to it, even at 10 am on a Monday morning: people working out, classes going on, chai brewing somewhere behind the registration desk, out of sight. People got worked up at the microphone, talking about what the place has very quickly come to mean to them.

It was a very smooth short event, with everybody coming in for well-deserved credit and with the facility itself clearly ready for its close-up. And then, after shaking hands and getting a hug or two, Welch was out of there, with a bill to write, or a meeting to attend, or a world to tweak.

June 15th, 2009

In Which VDB Categorically Rejects Any Potential Endorsement By Ben Affleck

by Philip Baruth

It dawns on me that some of you out there may be harboring a specific, secret worry: that you will begin to support this State Senate campaign, and then one day Ben Affleck will come out publicly in support as well. Don’t worry, please. We will categorically refuse Ben Affleck’s endorsement should it ever be offered. We won’t let him kill this campaign the way he once did John Kerry’s, not to mention the film version of DAREDEVIL. Never forget, people. Never forget.

June 13th, 2009

State Senate Campaign, And The Coming of Act Blue: In Which The Traditional Focus of Political Fundraising Shifts Dramatically (WITH HAMBURG SUMMIT INFO BELOW)

by Philip Baruth

Let me say first that if you didn’t click in today looking for a campaign update, and don’t want one now that you’ve found one, there’s a fresh post beneath this one for your VDB reading pleasure. It involves the Fourth Annual Hamburger Summit, and all of the ethical, legal and moral reasons why you Must Attend. We continue to aim to please here.

But if you’re interested in the ongoing campaign for the State Senate, we wanted to update you promptly. The idea behind this site has always been a simple one: that political blogs can help provide transparency and candor in a world often shockingly lacking in both.

That was my argument when I ran for an Obama delegate slot last summer, and it seemed to strike a chord. If you’ll remember, there was a lot of chatter in the press about backroom deals and the secret flipping of delegates.

I offered to transmit details from the convention floor directly to you, you accepted, and I like to think I held up my end of the bargain: I arranged to blog for the Free Press, as well as VDB, and essentially wrote posts every minute of every day. And several while asleep.

This State Senate campaign will be run much the same way. You will have the power to move issues directly to the campaign through this site, and eventually the campaign’s own site; you will always have a current, clear sense of the campaign’s progress. I consider you stake-holders.

And if I make it to Montpelier, you’ll have eyes and ears there in an entirely unprecedented way.

But for now, a few words about the campaign itself.

A few weeks back, I asked those of you who know and like this site to contribute financially, maybe partially because you’ve enjoyed the writing and analysis here for some years, and want to give something back; maybe partially because you like my particular politics; maybe, finally, because political campaigns are boring, predictable affairs, and you have the sense that whatever else happens, this particular campaign will not make that mistake.

Whatever your reasons, a good number of you did brave the three-dimensional world and sent an actual check to the old-school post office box. If you did so, you already have a thank-you note in hand, but let me thank each and every one of you one more time. I appreciate it more than I can say.

These donations have been both large and small, but they are equally welcome and equally necessary. And processing them has made me look at traditional fundraising with an entirely new eye.

When you look at the categories most fundraisers use, be they political or non-profit, they tend to create a tiered system, with the largest donors thanked most prominently, and set off with a value-laden designation. Take a look the next time you enter a really swanky new hospital wing or stadium: you’ll see a plaque, headed by the names of “Platinum Donors” or “Diamond Members” or “Alpha Friends” or something similar.

And then, down near the bottom, you’ll find a whole bunch of people labeled simply “Friends.” Chances are good the group at the bottom sacrificed as much as the group at the top, in proportion to their resources.

That mode of recognition seems inherently wrong to me.

Yet, you still want to give credit where credit is due, and in the case of a political campaign, most credit is due to those who jump on board earliest, when it’s not entirely certain that the train will actually reach the station.

Those who have faith.

So I’ve decided to call the first 100 donors to this campaign “Barnraisers,” the people who come out earliest, regardless of the size of the contribution at stake. Early is what matters. Early is what allows you to make it all the way to Late. Early is what you want to celebrate.

We have about a third of that target number already received. Will being part of this group help you get into graduate school? No. Buff out your resume? No. Impress anyone anywhere who isn’t already inclined to support the campaign themselves? Not likely.

But it’s a designation that will always mean something to me, and to those already lending a hand in the effort. And to make it unbelievably easy, we now have an Act Blue page up and running, allowing you to use your credit or debit card to donate online.

Just click here, and Act Blue does the rest.

If you want to get extremely fancy, Act Blue also allows you to set up your own fundraising page for the campaign, so that your friends’ donations come grouped together, under your banner. Which is nice, in its own way.

Thanks for considering all of this. And one general date to keep in mind: somewhere around the first week of September, we’ll be having a big, formal kick-off rally in Burlington. Date and place to be fine-tuned between now and then. The only thing absolutely certain at this point is that it will not be boring. Repeat: not boring.

You have my word on that.

Late Update, Tuesday, 3:47 pm:

A very heartening response to Monday’s post so far, and thank you if you stepped up already. Forgot to add the link to the campaign’s shiny to which you are invited and to which you can bring your friends to crash without calling ahead first. Yes, even that friend.

Later Update, Friday, 4:24 pm:

At this point we’re closing in on half the Barnraisers necessary, half the crucial first 100 donors to the campaign. Which is brilliant, considering the page has been live for a week’s time. It also means, of course, that if you want to be known forever after as a pioneering member of this 2010 campaign, immortality is slowly slipping away.

The Act Blue link is here. You click it, and within an average of two minutes, you’re on board.

And we’re profoundly grateful.

June 13th, 2009

THE RETURN OF THE FOURTH ANNUAL HAMBURGER SUMMIT: All Montpelier Security Forces Said To Be Adopting “Defensive Posture,” Even As J.D. Ryan Sharpens Canines With A Rat-Tail File

by Philip Baruth

Every year, there’s a moment when bloggers and lurkers and trolls and mainstream journalists and candidates and political junkies of every persuasion hobble away from their computer monitors and venture into the sunshine, there to eat meat and pound a few Molson Lites, until sunstroke sets in. It’s enough to break your heart, this deep, if brief, three-dimensional camaraderie. It’s called the Hamburg Summit, and if you’ve never attended, that’s a small human tragedy.

The Sign

Given that VDB is in the midst of a highly complex transition to full-time campaigning, Green Mountain Daily will be taking the lead on planning this year. They’ve scouted a new site in Montpelier, every bit as spiritually enriching as the Great Tree at Burlington’s North Beach, and more convenient for Southern Folk as well.

Fancy-pants interactive map is here.

The new venue: The Montpelier recreation field
The new date: Sunday June 28th, 2009, 1-5 pm

The most common misconception about this yearly event is that it’s a bloggers-only scene. Far from it.

Everyone shows, everyone is welcome, and everyone is encouraged to bring every friend and child they can. In election years, of course, we’ve usually had a strong turnout from politicos and their staffs, with the occasional Congressman thrown in for good measure.

Odum fights off dog

And generally speaking, one of these office-holders or office-seekers is subjected to something called The Ryan Test, in which GMD blogger J.D. Ryan falls into deep political discussion with the politico at hand, and then, to the bated breath of the crowd, conveys his impressions via unmistakeable facial expression.

JD and Peter
File Photo: Welch faces Ryan Test, 2007 BBQ

the crowd, huddled
File Photo: Pollina apparently fails Ryan Test, 2008 BBQ

Which led us to suddenly think the unthinkable: could this year be the year that VDB not only records but undergoes the Ryan Test? And if so, will J.D. scotch the whole Senate campaign before it’s ever truly launched? It is to shudder.

Mark your calendars. This may well get ugly. Aloha.

June 12th, 2009

Why It’s Good To Have A Shumlin: He Knows When To Git Hisself A Gundersen

by Philip Baruth

Back in the summer of 2006, VDB was considered radical for suggesting that the relicensing of Vermont Yankee was now an open question, rather than a done deal. Of course, here in the summer of 2009, relicensing is not simply one open question but several. Will Vermont relicense an aging nuclear facility, a plant granted a controversial uprate not long ago? Will Vermont hold the plant’s owners to their legal and ethical responsibilities on eventual clean-up?

vermont yankee

And finally, will the Legislature allow themselves to be played like a Stradivarius by Entergy while they’re out of session? Apparently not.

Peter Shumlin may or may not be running for Governor. But he has one eye very clearly peeled for any corporate shenanigans during the Legislative recess. Which is to say he’s again tapped the Entergy’s most consistently correct watchdog, Arnie Gundersen. Wrote Shummy to Arnie:

better?“The legislature needs assurance that before the start of the 2010 session, adequate progress is made to meet the goals set by NSA and the Oversight Panel.

As you were a member of the panel I would like to ask you to spend three days per month monitoring ENVY’s progress toward these goals. Thank you for all of your work.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves. The Legislature needs qualified eyes and ears on this matter while they’re otherwise occupied, maybe more than on any other currently.

We’re talking about a plant with chronic, frequent, pressing safety issues, owned by a corporation given to the worst sort of public relations fan-dancing. Attention must be paid, as Arthur Miller liked to say, and Gundersen is precisely the person to pay it.

As we wrote some years back, “Arnie Gundersen knows from whence he speaks. He is not some crank with an irrational fear of nuclear energy. Rather, he is a highly skilled watchdog, whose views the State should begin actively soliciting rather than fighting or disparaging.”

Double plus good on Shumlin for making it so, again.

June 10th, 2009

Fixer Terry McAuliffe Receives Sandwich, Road Map From Virginia Primary Voters

by Philip Baruth

It was supposed to be easy for Terry McAuliffe. This was the man who raised a mint for Bill back in 1995, scaring off any challenge from the Left. The man who pioneered the White House Coffee boondoggle, and the Lincoln Bedroom “Pay-to-Stay” system. The pal who offered then-President Clinton interest-free loans to buy into a Colonial in Chappaqua, and to buy off Paula Jones. First, McAuliffe would put Hillary in the White House. Second, he would put himself in the Virginia Governor’s mansion. Third? Enjoy.

And McAuliffe had leveraged his fundraising connections into a massive cash advantage going into yesterday’s contested primary. More to the point, he’d flown in The Big Dog, the ex-President, to remind folks of the prosperous 1990’s and to secure The Black Vote.

Sure, the whole scenario brought with it more than a whiff of deja vu: after all, bags of money and Bill Clinton front and center with Southern African American audiences were the two prongs of Hillary’s own Strategy, two years back.

The resemblance didn’t bother McAuliffe, though. He wasn’t facing Barack Obama, after all, just a couple of relatively obscure state level politicians, neither of whom could get seated in a DC restaurant to save their lives.

But Terrance Richard McAuliffe woke up this morning to find his monied dreams a smoking ruin.

Not only did he lose yesterday’s primary, the primary he led throughout the year. Not only did he lose by nearly 2/1 to a candidate previously dismissed as an also-ran. Not only all of that, but McAuliffe suffered a worse indignity still: the winner, one Creigh Deeds, blasted “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” at his victory rally in Charlottesville.

And that smarts.

Now look, we never liked Terry McAuliffe here at VDB. We thought he helped to pull the Democratic Party not simply to the Right but to the Corporate Right back in the ’90s, under cover of the DLC. And during the primaries, in pursuit of an inevitability strategy for Hillary, McAuliffe was arrogant and thuggish, despite the occasional attempt to clown for the cameras and put on a happy face.

It was the McAuliffes and the Penns and the Wolfsons who took Hillary down, as well as her own penchant for advisors of their stripe. To see McAuliffe breeze into the Governor’s mansion would have been too painful to contemplate, like Democrats’ own shameful Haley Barbour come to life.

Still, was it really necessary to salt McAuliffe’s wounds by blasting the theme song of his longtime political patron, the song that once meant Hope and Change and such but now brings to mind only the decline of Clinton-style crony politics at every level?

Oh yes. It was Necessary, friends. It most certainly was. Enjoy the party, Creigh Deeds. You’ve served your state and your country well.

Late Update, 4:16 pm:

We would be remiss if we didn’t state the obvious: McAuliffe’s evil plans just might have borne fruit had it not been for the tireless work of one Kestrel9000, otherwise known as Ed the Terry Killer.

Well challenged, stout yeoman.

June 7th, 2009

Paging Aesop: What Parts of Override or Supermajority Don’t You Understand?

by Philip Baruth

Never make the mistake of thinking that Jim Douglas speaks for no one, because he speaks for an entire range of conservative interests, most of them grouped around a shared appreciation of low taxes. Many of these interests have access to media, money and message, and they have long allowed Douglas to amplify his own one-note, low-tax song. Not surprising, then, that as the Governor is visibly losing his ability to check the Legislature on both social and fiscal issues, he would want to reframe this growing weakness as strength at the ballot box. And not surprising that his narrow chorus of supporters would sing harmony.

Case in point: the budget override. Jim Douglas has hit the anti-tax message every day in office, sometimes twenty or thirty times a day; it is his signature issue, his raison d’etre (”I check government spending in the final days of the session, therefore I am”).

Budget is his brand.

What does it mean, then, when two-thirds of the House and Senate vote to take the state down a different path to fiscal responsibility? Several things at once: 1) that Douglas has lost his ability to control the budget battle; 2) that Douglas has lost his ability to control perceptions of the budget battle; 3) that a two-thirds majority is now more comfortable standing for re-election in opposition to Douglas, than in concert with him. On the budget, mind.

A supermajority, in other words, is every bit as much an indication of grass-roots strength, potential strength at the ballot box, as it is a technical number necessary to override a veto in Montpelier.

In short, Douglas and his cohort continue to lose strength in the State House, a direct reflection of their growing weakness on Election Day. And that trend takes us, by logical extension, to a new Governor this next time out.

But to read the Governor’s press releases, and their reflection in the mainstream media, you’d think that this last override is the final nail in the Democratic coffin. The new meme, “Democrats now own the budget,” is meant as a warning, that the little guy will know where to pin his anger over increased taxes and fees come November.

And certainly that way of framing it must help the Governor get to bed at night. But it’s really the fable of the fox and the “sour” grapes, the more you get looking at it.

No one has been foxier than Jim Douglas for the better part of the last decade, and no one looks less convincing now, claiming that overriding a balky Governor on the defining crisis of the age is the worst thing that could have happened to Democrats.

The truth is simpler, and you don’t have to warp the results of last week to get to it: Douglas has long made himself irrelevent to the legislative process, stepping in only briefly in the final weeks for a series of high-profile vetoes. The recent vetoes orchestrated by Shumlin and Smith simply take that stance to its logical conclusion, rendering Douglas irrelevent for the entire session rather than the first three-quarters.

And VDB wouldn’t have it any other way.

But don’t expect our view of the dust-up to win the day; you’ll continue to hear and read the “Democrats own the budget” meme right up to Election Day 2010. You’ll continue to see Douglas claim no responsibility, whatsoever, for the workings of government at this particular point in time.

Which, again, is our basic point.

June 6th, 2009

Regarding That Speech in Cairo

by Philip Baruth

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